KATIE LAMBERT reports on a legendary assembly of talent in Oxfordshire
The Swarb would have been proud. Another Cropredy festival to go down in the annals of folk music legend.
And what a gathering. Transcending its folk roots, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention headlined Madness, The Bootleg Beatles and Fairport Convention, albeit without The Swarb.
Those folk who know their folk will have heard of Dave “The Swarb” Swarbrick, one of the most celebrated members of the British folk fraternity.
His influence spread beyond the birthing of electric folk — leading with his fiddle on seminal Fairport Convention album Liege and Lief — to contribute to one of the most important music projects of the 1960s.
He played a part in folk music history right up until the day he died last June. What is left is a legacy that will be enjoyed for years to come — songs and stories which have kept alive the oral and musical tradition, a festival, a meeting of appreciators and participants in that tradition and a forging of new musical roads with the festival fringe sessions.
To keep the punters coming and the festival in full swing, Madness are a great addition to the line-up. But what promises to be a knees-up ska skank turns out to be a strained, pedestrian walkabout with any soul it might have once had polished out of it.
Strangely, that isn’t the case with the Bootleg Beatles, who play the world-famous songs as fresh as the day they were written. Dead-ringers all, they bust through a set of crowd-pleasers that would make any heart melt.
Cropredy would be nothing without its fringe. To the right of the main festival field, with its huge illuminated stage with large screens either side and booming speakers in front of an ocean of fold-out out chairs, festival clothing and food vendors, home-made lemonade stall and real ale bar, is a stone wall with an opening onto the Oxford canal.
A quick jaunt along the towpath, past the colourful barges where after hours much musical merriment is made, is Cropredy village.
Pubs host stages with bands of all descriptions, with the quick and the dead mingling in the churchyard where ale-suppers sit on former ale-suppers’ tombstones and a small sign points the way to the church spire, which you can climb for a view over the entire site.
But the main event is Fairport Convention, who play a blinder of a folk-rock classics set. There are Liege and Lief singalongs and song narratives that need to be told to future generations, such as John Condon — the story of a boy who lost his life in the WWI trenches.
It’s followed by a roiling version of Matty Groves and a storming Meet on the Ledge is the anthem that closes the festival. Cropredy is half a century old next year and, as this festival proved yet again, it’s no wonder that it’s become legendary.